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Byron Shire
March 5, 2021

Council retribution

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Last week Echonetdaily ran a story about compliance issues and talked about the experiences of Duncan Dey, a former councillor.

The essence of Mr Dey’s complaint was that Council’s compliance staff allowed his neighbour to complete his two illegal buildings and instead turned their attention to alleged non-compliance on Mr Dey’s own property.

That is a recurring theme in compliance matters; the person complained of makes his/her own complaint about the complainer and thereby hopes to be able to continue with his project. Council staff have the power to disregard a complaint if it’s lodged in bad faith – such as by an embittered tenant or ex-spouse – but that seems to be a power they seldom exercise.

Indeed I know of two such cases in relation to a matter that recently went to court. Very early on in the piece one of the complainant neighbours told me they received a phone call from Council staff suggesting that she herself had an illegal cabin. There was no follow-through but the point had been made.

Much more worrying was what happened to another complainant neighbour. One week before the court hearing, that chap received a notice of intention to inspect his property. How ‘fortuitous’ was the timing that it resulted in said chap withdrawing his complaint!

I find it very disturbing that on the one hand Council’s lawyers are fighting the illegal developer (who was seeking retrospective approval for a variety of buildings) while on the other, the compliance section takes action that has the result of benefitting the developer.

When I mentioned the matter to Ralph James, Council’s legal counsel, he seemed to me to be genuinely startled at what the compliance chaps had done. I guess that like any organisation Council has its undercurrents and factions, those in the know and those who just want to keep their jobs.

What ratepayers – and councillors in particular – need to understand is that the staff of the compliance section are Council’s cops. When they visit a property they are likely to have a profound effect on the immediate lives of the property owners, who may have to cease construction or whatever naughty stuff they’re doing and make expensive choices about going to court or not. Sometimes there are threats to Council staff.

That’s the real world. On the other hand if you’re into parallel paper realities (like your councillors) you may like to reassure yourself by checking out Council’s enforcement policy. Good for a laugh anyway.

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